28 May 2008

Gente bien, or, crazy Argentina, take 3

Today's annoying news. In Rosario/12, some member of a palaeo-leftist Kirchnerist movement (what do you call that, a reverse useful idiot?) writes that the May 25 meeting in Rosario was "the birth of a new political coalition for the upper class",¹ who "without any inhibitions paraded their luxury and waste" around the city, and whose real goal (now acknowledged) is "to change Argentina's [political] model."²

¹ He actually wrote gente bien — it's untranslatable, but it has elements of the traditional "decent hard-working people" plus enough money to stay comfortably at the top of the middle-class, or above.

² Here it was modelo de país, that is, the way the country conceives itself and is structured politically and socio-economically. The Kirchnerist model's goal claims to be accumulation and redistribution of wealth — though so far we've mostly seen the former.

Well duh! Yes, we do want a regime change. It doesn't have to come from elections — the president herself could lead it if she took real power away from her husband and his gang. Only she doesn't want to.

And no, you stupid sheep, we weren't all gente bien over there at the Flag Memorial. For one I'm clinging to the bottom of the middle class, and I was there by my own will (unless the tens of thousands that the Peronist Party had to round up and ship to Salta to fill the space around Cristina).

True, most people in the meeting in Rosario were gente bien. But it would take so little effort to please them, it's impossible to understand why your government is so eager to piss them off. It's the poor who have the most problems — maybe you should be asking your beloved president where all that wealth she wants to redistribute is right now, since the Argentine poor are as poor as they were ten years ago, and it's not the gente bien who's using taxpayers' money for "luxury and waste" such as, I don't know, a four-billion-dollar bullet train!

27 May 2008

May 25 in Rosario and Cristina Kirchner: Complain, deny, repeat

I was speaking, yesterday, of the meeting called by the agricultural organizations in Rosario last Sunday, May 25, to protest the export taxes and the government's handling of agriculture and cattle farming (from now on "the meeting of the campo"). In passing I mentioned the media coverage.

It appears that hundreds of reporters and photojournalists came to Rosario, and the meeting was, of course, in the cover of every newspaper the next day. The coverage itself was varied. La Nación, predictably, gave a lot of space to old-fashioned "common man in the street" personal testimonies, and romanticized the whole thing as an epic march of the dignified rural middle class. Both La Nación and Clarín supplied a lot of video and audio, and gloated over the defeat of the government strategy. Página/12, also predictably, attacked the meeting with irony, noting how some people who protest against taxes came to Rosario flying their own airplanes or driving brand-new SUVs.

Página also did another thing, which to me was an echo of the Kirchnerist model — denial and repetition. The online edition devoted more than 50% of its content to reposting old op-ed pieces dating from the beginning of the government-vs.-campo crisis. Some were brilliant, valuable arguments for the export taxes; some were sectarian, sentimental, others cold and technical; but they were all old. Pertinent, maybe, but old. Repeated. Why republish them?

That curious fact immediately reminded me of the Kirchnerist government's insistence on certain issues to the exclusion of a reality that's biting them in the nose — the grown-up equivalent of a child closing her eyes, covering her ears and shouting "la la la I can't hear you". Kirchner (Cristina/Néstor) doesn't want to see reality. That's why Cristina had thousands of people brought to her speech in Salta, and for that audience she reveled on her husband's administration's socioeconomic achievements. This time she kept it short. She's been known to go at it for an hour. Néstor Kirchner himself never tired of congratulating himself about the economy on every single speech he gave. Repetition, noise, a mantra of figures of poverty, GDP, employment, exports, industrial production. Nonsense. Even the true parts.

Why nonsense? Argentina is doing badly on many respects. It's much, much better than six years ago, but it's not better than 15 years ago. There are problems. When the people insist that there are problems, the president can't tell them to shut up. She can't tell them to value what they've got and thank their stars they have such a good, progressive, popular government, and act offended when some dare complain about an issue. A government is not to the people what a a father is to his son — we're all adults here. The government additionally has the responsibility of keeping the high moral ground.

Of course, when a crypto-fascist movement like Peronism is in power, citizens are treated like children. Though Kirchnerism doesn't really have a cult of personality, the purposefully crafted mannerisms Cristina employs to resemble Evita Perón are rather obvious.

Now, a good father may occasionally display frustration or sadness when his children don't appreciate his efforts, but eventually he'll stop whining and do what must be done. Cristina Kirchner isn't even up to that role. She has complained about her children's lack of love for what she did for them, she has repeated ad nauseam that she's doing her best and wants to be everyone's good mother (if only us children would obey!), she's yelled at us a little, and after that, sensing no response, she has frozen. She doesn't know what to do next. She's surrounded by powerful, violent, resentful people, and she knows she has to take them into account. They put her where she is now, after all. One of them even sleeps with her (we presume) and presides over her political party. What to do? Cristina doesn't know.

26 May 2008

May 25: the people's meeting in Rosario, and Kirchner's show in Salta

Acto del campo en Rosario por un país federal

Yesterday, May 25, the campo held its meeting here in Rosario, at the Flag Memorial. The four main agricultural organizations and many others called for people to come from all corners of the country. Although the initial protest was triggered by the increase of the tax export on soybean, the government handled it so badly it ended up turning it into a movement that demands global changes in all areas: differential tax exports, subsidies or tax exemptions for local production, help for smaller producers to avoid the concentration of land, a comprehensive policy for agriculture and livestock farming, and a general change in the style of government of the Kirchners.

Acto del campo en Rosario por un país federal

Marisa and I had arranged to have breakfast at 8 AM with the Rosarigasinos and four visiting photographers coming to Rosario via Buenos Aires, at a bar located on Belgrano Ave., which comes from the south and leads to the Flag Memorial. That's where the attendants to the campo's meeting were coming. The morning was cold but the wind was mercifully calm. Even at so early a time, we saw bus after big bus bringing people to the meeting, plus tractor trucks old and new, plus cars, and people marching on foot with Argentine flags, banners and signs.

Acto del campo en Rosario por un país federal

We took our breakfast and then went out to check out the masses. The morning was splendid; the air was filled with expectation, and tens of thousands of white and sky-blue flags were flying. We took a detour around the back of the Flag Memorial to avoid the greatest concentration of people and heard the announcer over the loudspeaker, thanking the attendants and reading the banners with the names of the places where they'd come from. Many were from small towns in Santa Fe, some of which I'd never heard about before; many from the superproductive area of southern Santa Fe and southern Córdoba, but also people from the drier north, from Chaco, Entre Ríos, Corrientes, from the rich lands of north and central Buenos Aires, from Tucumán and Salta in the far northwest, and from Neuquén and Río Negro in the southwest. There were whole families and many older couples, plus heterogeneous groups marching together. Every time the announcer read the name of a town there was a roar coming up from some place or other in the crowd.

Acto del campo en Rosario por un país federal

Acto del campo en Rosario por un país federal

I took a lot of pictures and some video, but I didn't stay for the speeches. Our visitors followed us down Belgrano Ave., along which people continued to arrive past the police barricades. There was a rumour that the organizers wanted to start early because then President Cristina Kirchner would be speaking on the official TV channel, which requires all others to cut off their broadcasting. I don't know what became of that, but I learned later that Cristina, presiding the celebration in Salta, spoke for only 14 minutes in front of a crowd formed by a majority of people who were paid to be brought and planted there to applaud her.

Cristina's crowd waved banners with political legends or signs noting who had paid for them to come — Kirchnerist mayors and union leaders who always need to display their loyalty to whoever's in charge to continue receiving their pay. I didn't even bother to listen to Cristina's speech later; in any case, her diction and style are so irritating, and her every sentence so full of pretense, that I can't stand her for more than five seconds.

Our meeting (the one in Rosario were the people came by their own will and only waved Argentine flags) gathered 200,000 people according to the police, or more like 300,000 according to the organizers. There wasn't a single incident or disturbance among the attendants or towards other people or the host city. Kirchner's disgracefully political meeting gathered 150,000 according to the government, although the police said it was more like 70,000 (we know how the Kirchners love to tweak numbers in their favour...), and as seems to have become customary in Peronist meetings, some tough guys from the truck drivers' union (whose leader sat near Cristina) engaged in a brawl with some other tough guys paid to attend by the Kirchnerist government of Tucumán.

The coverage: the openly Kirchnerist Página/12 and its child Rosario/12, the local La Capital, the also local, unfortunately titled Rosario3, the outraged conservative La Nación, the arch-enemy of everything that's good, Clarín, and the BBC.

I have more to say about this (you were fearing that, weren't you) but I'll shut up for today.

24 May 2008

Rosario after the general strike

After Thursday's general strike, Rosario's taxi drivers met with the authorities and then decided to work normally during the weekend (the city will be full of visitors, so they can't lose that money) and suspend the night service starting on Monday. Political characters of various stripes latched onto the horrible murder that triggered this and took advantage of it to speak ill of the provincial and municipal governments.

While the initial response of the taxi union was understandable, the rest immediately seemed to me to be staged for political purposes. Yesterday evening, after the tense meeting with the authorities, the head of CGT Rosario, Néstor Ferrazza, was seen at Agustín Rossi's campaign launch meeting for the presidency of the Santa Fe Justicialist Party. It was Ferrazza who decreed the general strike with less than two hours notice, and it's Rossi who's been more active criticizing the new Socialist administration since his party lost the election here.

This kind of strike had been unheard of for years. Later Ferrazza called it "a Rosariazo against insecurity", which for people with some knowledge of history seems not only a exaggeration, but really dangerous speech. The Rosariazo was a series of protests against unpopular measures of the dictatorial government of Juan Carlos Onganía, during 1969, at a time when the whole country was in unrest. There were many wounded and dead, and the city turned into hell, because the government used as much violence as it could. Comparing it with last Thursday's strike is an insult. We the common citizens suffered great inconvenience, but the government tried to solve the situation with words. Everybody, except the ones blocking the streets, behaved democratically and as calmly as the awful situation allowed.

What's it about "insecurity"? After five years of economic growth at unprecedented rates conducted by a government that claims income redistribution as its main goal, poverty is still about 30% and income inequality is about the same as in the peak of the last crisis, while nothing has been done to improve education or to bring back the dream of upward social mobility. And then these filthy low-grade politicians disguised as speakers for the working class demand that insecurity be solved by a local government with no power to affect national policies, dictated by a president who's more concerned about how many people applaud her awful, divisive speeches than anything else.

Tomorrow's 198th anniversary of the creation of the first national government. The four agricultural organizations are going to have a mass gathering here in Rosario, at the Flag Memorial, while Cristina Kirchner will be speaking in Salta, far north, in a place where she doesn't have to fear opposition and where her paid supporters will be carried in large numbers. If all goes well, I'll be here taking pictures and contributing with my presence.

22 May 2008

Transport strike!

Rough day today, and it's only 2 PM... Last night a taxi driver was murdered by two men in the north of Rosario. They boarded the taxi as passengers and, a few blocks later, they apparently tried to rob Sergio Oberto, the driver. He was stabbed several times, once in the throat. The attackers fled, leaving him there to die. The news spread quickly, and the taxi drivers' union took to the streets, blocking some and burning tires, to protest against insecurity. By early morning, the two streets that border the downtown area (Oroño Blvd. and Pellegrini Ave.) were almost completely blocked by taxis, forcing buses and private cars to take long detours. I got to work 15 minutes late. I thought that was going to be the biggest inconvenience.

At mid-morning I took one hour off work to go to a doctor's appointment. He was remarkably punctual, so I got back to my office quickly, but as soon as I'd returned, my father called me to warn me that a general transport strike had been declared — starting at noon. It was just past 11 AM. The people at the office were preparing to leave. I took care of my stuff and went to the bus stop. Five minutes later, a group of people coming from the south (where the nearest street blockade was) told me buses weren't entering downtown anymore. I started walking, since I'd seen some buses. I couldn't possibly walk home (well, I could — but it was going to be tough) and I couldn't ask anybody I knew for a car ride. After 10 minutes I decided I'd better try Marisa's house, 20-something blocks from where I was. My bus finally came, packed with people. I and twenty others somehow squeezed into it, and we began our slow progress back home.

When I left the office, the downtown streets were weirdly silent, only a few cars circulating, people with concerned faces speaking on their mobile phones. The cellphone grid collapsed almost immediately, leading me to think what would happen if this were a true catastrophe — everybody's only means of communication would fail at the most critical time! Soon afterward, however, the pupils from all the schools downtown were released by the teachers, everybody was alert, and the streets became chaotic, full of screaming kids wandering and running after buses, disoriented old ladies asking around for news, and cars trying to avoid collisions with the above.

Oberto's wife said the strike made no sense and would solve nothing, that it was disrespectful, and that nobody from the unions or the government had come to comfort her in this time of sorrow. The strike was launched by CGT (Confederación General del Trabajo), the "union of unions" of Peronist roots, allied with the national government. I think it has a clear political intention; the Justicialist Party has been trying to undermine the Socialist government of Rosario for ages, and even more after Peronism lost the provincial elections, and fake "grassroots" demonstrations against the local government on the issue of security have been orchestrated.

The obvious truth is that insecurity is solved by increasing the general standard of living and giving the poor more access to education, not by burning tires and paralyzing a city. I got home safely today. I imagine thousands didn't. Thousands of children missed a school lesson, thousands of people lost a day of work, thousands missed a doctor's appointment or a job interview. Countless innocent people, including mothers with small children, disabled people, old people who can't walk tens of block to get back to their homes, were left to their own devices by leaders who used the understandable rage of their followers to their advantage.

21 May 2008


Today I spent a couple of hours doing fieldwork. My partner (whom I shall call B) and I went to survey the information flow, the computer equipment and the people who interact with it in one of the large public hospitals in Rosario. This is a job I'm prepared for but I'd never done it before, so I was looking forward to it. B and I are supposed to do this for all the major health centers in the city under provincial administration, but we're not getting real orders from anyone, so on our own we decided to start the survey and record the results, beginning with the hospital that is closest to our workplace.

We made a brief appearance there yesterday, and by the terrified looks we got from a couple of employees, it seems obvious that they think the new administration is out to plant spies among them, or worse, planning a general audit. In fact the audit has been quietly happening all this time. Previous administrations had a Supreme Leader take office and issue grandiose or inappropriate orders which might or might not be addressed to the proper person, and may or may not be physically complied with; this one sends out human probes who sit down, gently inquire about your activities and abilities, and then hand you a set of loose rules and leave you with something to do. That something is usually as great as it is vague, and (so far) comes with no funding and no immediate reward except your own sense of fulfillment. I didn't like it before. I'm not sure I like it now, when I think of things in the long run, but at least the painful feeling of doing stupid useless work for stupid useless people is gone.

B had to leave early so I was left with the hospital's IT people. They've developed a great system for the hospital, and (for a change) it seems the personnel uses it as they should. It's a pity those things can't be transferred automatically to a different place. The system runs on proprietary software, which is a problem, and requires robust equipment that most public health centers can't afford (or rather, that bureaucracy will never grant funds for), but the real problem lies in the people. So many are used to laziness and carelessness, and old habits die so hard...

16 May 2008

Crazy Argentina, take 2

More about the bizarre conflict between the government and the farmers: after being all fuzzy (in her own way) and speaking of dialogue and such, la Presidenta won't talk to the agricultural organizations "because they've politicized the issue" (!) and, just Clarín becomes surprisingly (shall I say suspiciously?) balanced in its coverage of the latest renewal of the strike, piquetero leader Luis D'Elía goes back to its usual self and announces a total blockade of Rosario on May 25 (Revolution Day) "to stop gorilas from entering the city", since that's when farmers from all around are scheduled to stage a massive demonstration here. (I told you so!)

It would be sensible to remind ourselves that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her minions started speaking of the farmers as right-wing coup-inciting oligarchic nuts from hell (or words to that effect) as soon as the conflict started, and even before her stubbornness let it escalate, thus framing the whole thing as an example of class struggle — the rich trying to destabilize a government that serves the poor. So who politicized it first?

It would also be quite an obvious remark to note that the responsibility of the president is not to stir up conflicts, but to solve them, and that the president has no right to jeopardize the whole country's peace and prosperity only because the opposition isn't wise enough to surrender and fall on its knees (Néstor Kirchner dixit). The one in power has to be magnanimous, truly open to dialogue, extra careful with words, slow to anger and quick to forgive. Cristina is none of those things, that we can see. Well-spoken, yes, but not careful.

In any country but Argentina, also, it would be ridiculous to suppose that a group of people (no matter who) could block all the access roads to a large city and get away with it. In many places, even speaking of doing that would be a crime, or would merit a warning from the authorities. That the person that leads the block may use a gross classist epithet to justify it would be outrageous; and the fact that that person may be employed by the federal administration and answer to the president (or to her husband) would be a huge embarrassment to the government.

But this is Argentina, so people who were thinking of visiting Rosario on May Revolution Day, our most sacred patriotic holiday, are already canceling their trips, fearing they might be stopped and attacked by piqueteros; and we who live in the city are wondering whether it would be wise to try to celebrate at the Flag Memorial, as is customary, for fear that it'll be occupied by Luis D'Elía's thugs, or by any of the several Kirchnerist gangs that have sprouted here, fed by their leaders' contagious resentment and "welfare" government money plus small doses of outdated communist slogans.

If this were a normal country, the police would be on alert and the governor would be ready to call the federal government to get Gendarmería on the road. Since it's Argentina, it's doubtful that the call will be made, or answered.

14 May 2008

Crazy Argentina, take 1

Just a news scoop from today's online newspapers, since time doesn't permit anything else...

From Clarín, the new enemy of the people according to Kirchnerist doctrine: the government reports poverty in Argentina is down to 20.7%, while private estimates (where the price of the food basket used to calculate the poverty line is not grossly fudged) place it at close to 30%, and in the meantime, the census bureau INDEC suddenly announces that it won't take into account the measurements of inflation outside the Greater Buenos Aires area, where the fudging is effected. In fact, the Kirchnerist mayors of Greater Buenos Aires have been ordered to send inspectors to check prices in the field and report to Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno, in case these "deviations from the ideal" have to be, let's say, corrected. And while the anti-inflation brigades keep prices down in the cities, piquetero leader Luis D'Elía says he's taking his guys to the countryside to defend the government against the evil machinations of coup-inciting farmers on strike.

From Crítica Digital we also learn that members of three different gangs groups of piqueteros K attacked Luciano Miguens, head of the Sociedad Rural Argentina (i.e. the Argentine Rural Society, aka "the Oligarchy"), the police being suspiciously absent at the time, and the Jóvenes K (that is, the Kirchnerist Youth) protested at Clarín's kiosk at the Buenos Aires Book Fair.

From Página/12, recently remade as the government's official press organ, we hear nothing of all this. How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?

10 May 2008

I'm still here

I haven't posted anything here in a week, but I can assure you it didn't seem like that much. Somehow this week has passed like a breeze. I've been feeling a bit sick; I went to the doctor; I stayed home editing pictures; I started working on a software project plus website in the afternoon; I went to an art exhibition (works by León Ferrari; the link is to my coverage in Spanish for Alerta Religión); I paid a visit to my girlfriend's parents for dinner; I spent hours at the office developing a little reference system; I overnapped; my Internet connections (home and workplace) failed repeatedly. So that's why I didn't post.

That, and the fact that things haven't changed a great deal around me. Inflation keeps going on; the government continues to be desperately stupid; the farmers are back on the roads. We haven't had any more smoke from the islands, and fortunately we're outside the reach of the volcanic ash plume from Chile which is already hovering over Buenos Aires.

Given that my spare time is going to be drastically reduced, expect fewer posts in the near future. Don't give in to despair — I'm still here.

02 May 2008

May Day and around

Like I said yesterday, May Day is like a Sunday over here, or it felt like that to me. So maybe it was appropriate for me to post pictures of churches! Of course, I only take pictures of churches from the outside, or else get inside only to snap a few shots.

Labour Day being like Sunday, it was only logical that it and the days before felt like weekend. I don't really have an entertainment schedule on weekdays, because I have to wake up very early to get to work in time, so I can't have a late dinner or stay up after, say, midnight. And I need siesta — a nap, sometimes an hour, an hour and a half, to fill in my daily 8-hour sleep quota.

Last Tuesday, however, I left the office and, feeling that going home would be a waste of a precious sunny afternoon, I went downtown to the Centre Català to visit a model ship exhibition (it was the last day). The lady in charge told me that I had to come after 5 PM. It was 1:30, so I crossed it off. In the meantime, though, I'd passed by a library and bought a book about the evolution of human food habits by Juan Luis Arsuaga, short, at a discounted price. Interesting reading, not dense at all. I have another one of Arsuaga's books, El collar del neandertal, a longer study of the Neandertals he and others studied in Atapuerca, a massive fossil reservoir in Spain. He writes simply, for the general public, yet showing no signs of struggling to popularize (or dumb down) the technical subjects.

After that I proceeded to the local seat of the government of Santa Fe, a massive building that takes up a whole block. In the past it served as a jail, as the police headquarters, and as an illegal detention center during the last dictatorship. Then the government took most of it, a part was set aside as a memorial museum, another section was turned into municipal offices, another one was turned into the new seat of the Natural Sciences Museum (the previous one burned down), and the huge central courtyard was turned into a public square (Plaza Cívica). There's a lot of space still unoccupied, or mostly unused.

I went there to visit a photojournalism exhibition — journalistic pictures taken in Argentina (and around) in 2006. It wasn't the last day to see them, but Wednesday was, and the visiting hours were really inconvenient. That's why Marisa missed it, and I went by myself at 2 PM, when everybody else was either having lunch or already taking a nap or working. It was a fairly large sample. It opened with a very significant picture of the recent past, the infamous shot of Alfredo Yabrán taken on the beach by José Luis Cabezas which probably cost the latter his life. The opening photograph for 2006 was a shot of Julio López facing a policeman, somewhere in court, during the trial of Miguel Etchecolatz. López disappeared, probably kidnapped by (former?) members of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police, the same organization that Etchecolatz used to command and that abducted and tortured López and hundreds of others back in the late 1970s.

The rest of the pictures were varied: a visual document of the ecological disaster that is the basin of the Riachuelo; scenes from the re-burial of Juan Domingo Perón when gangs of members of different unions attacked each other; candid pictures of famous idols/characters (Diego Maradona, Mirtha Legrand, Charly García); poor children washing car windows in Buenos Aires; people who make a living scavenging for food in a trash dump on a daily basis; Evo Morales taking office as president of Bolivia in traditional indigenous garb; Jorge Telerman celebrating something; a woman threatening to kill herself with a knife; penguins in Antarctica; a picture of the Payún Matru volcano in Malargüe, Mendoza, composed exactly the same as one I took last January... I must have been one hour in there. Then I walked around, went up to the third floor, and took more pictures.

In the end I got back home after 4 PM, ravenously hungry and terribly tired. It was too late for a nap. I had to wait till Wednesday for that, and then I could only lie down for an hour; then I met Marisa to go and see another photo exhibition, this time at the Bernardino Rivadavia Cultural Center. It was a very nice sample of black-and-white pictures by Peruvian photographers: study takes of young ladies, a few nudes, pictures of miners, a bishop, a nun, families in their homes, Machu Picchu, doctors, acrobats, funerals, carnival celebrations, indigenous women and men in the Andes, very young drafted soldiers.

I would've liked to see and work with the cameras of those times. The pictures were large but had a definition that digital cameras are attaining only now, and then only if you have the luck to find a good photography shop to print your pictures as they're supposed to be printed.

We topped off the "weekend" with a "Back to the Eighties" party in a disco that used to be in fashion for young teenagers when I was one. It was fun for me to hear all those international hits again, but we discovered we're not made for this. I've always been bothered by the overcrowded, smoke-filled, noise-saturated environment of popular discos, but this time Marisa and I felt it was too much, and our adventure ended soon... True, we'd had no suitable rest, but at 3:30 AM we were so tired we had to leave. A couple of years ago I would've been ashamed of myself if I left a party before it closed down, and furious if someone dared close it down before 5 AM. Sic transit...

01 May 2008

Church pictures

The other day I told you about my joining several atheistic groups on Flickr, one of them being for "atheists who love photographing churches". Well, I love doing that, but it's easy to lose track when you only see your last 200 pictures directly, so I did a couple of searches and came up with the gallery that ends this post.

May 1st is like Sunday — I'll tell you about that later. In the meantime, church-photo-loving atheist or simply church fan, enjoy!